Reflections on Professor Robert Gedaliah: A Public Speaking Professor Like None Other
“Ba doo ba ba doo ba, ba ba doo ba ba doo da.” Never could I imagine that these words would be spoken by a professor in a post-graduate class. Yet there I sat, hearing Professor Gedaliah excitedly utter them while demonstrating how to properly gesture while speaking publicly. The gibberish served as mere filler words, but for Professor Gedaliah, nothing was trivial — every part of a speech and lesson mattered. This entertaining bit kept the class engaged, as he always did — from his “yo!” when greeting a student or hailing a taxi, to his blunt yet constructive and creative criticism.
Robert Gedaliah passed away at the age of 74 in December, following an extended battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Rande, his brother and sister-in-law and two nephews. Several decades ago, the Gedaliahs founded “Speaking for Results,” an organization that trained corporate and religious leaders in public speaking. Professor Gedaliah was also a member of the public speaking organization Toastmasters, as well as of the National Speakers Association. In 2017, that organization’s New York chapter created the Gedaliah Award in the couple’s honor, recognizing members who display “outstanding support and care” to members of the community.
Professor Gedaliah started teaching public speaking in RIETS in 2011, and continued until the Fall 2019 semester, when his cancer returned. (It is exemplary of his great selflessness that while he spoke frequently of his wife's struggles with Parkinson's disease, he never mentioned his own years-long battle with cancer.)
“The thing he would say over and over in class was ‘Just talk to us. Get rid of the speechy voice and just have a conversation with the audience,’” recalled Rabbi Benny Krohn, Gedaliah's co-teacher for two and a half years. “What he was telling us was that the key to success as a speaker was to be authentic and real with your audience. Show who you really are and what really matters to you. And if you do that then you’ll share something meaningful with your audience and maybe more importantly you’ll learn to share your authentic self with the people in your life who really matter.”
“Robert was one of the most exuberant people I ever met,” said Professor Mike Landrum, whom Professor Gedaliah recruited to RIETS. “Everything with Robert was full voice and full body commitment. His commitment to his students was hard to match.”
I fondly remember Professor Gedaliah’s penchant for getting to know his students on a personal level. He passed out a paper at the beginning of the semester and asked us to write our birthdays and brief biographical information. One morning, he was making a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts before class, and sent the class a text asking if we wanted anything. He treated us all to lunch at the end of the semester. Rabbi Krohn recalled that he would send him a text every Friday wishing him a good shabbos.
After the semester, Professor Gedaliah texted me asking if I could help him enter his students’ birthday information into his cell phone, offering to treat me to lunch. After we ate and I helped him with the phone, we stayed and schmoozed for over an hour. I wasn’t planning on doing that, but he had a way about him that drew you in and made you want to hear what he had to say, because you could tell that it was coming from a place of experience and deep authenticity.
It is my hope that these memories inspire students to appreciate their teachers, to try and learn more than just what is needed to get a good grade. Because when all is said and done, those stories and moments and pieces of wisdom will be what we remember most.
Rande Gedaliah suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Donations to the Robert and Rande Gedaliah Fund to help the family pay for medical and funeral expenses can be made at gofundme.com/f/gedaliah.
Photo Credit: Elliot Heller
Photo Caption: Professor Gedahliah and his students